I once heard Colin Powell speak at a conference. It was a sizeable crowd, but not huge—hundreds, not thousands—just small enough to retain some sense of closeness in the room. Retired from two highly esteemed careers, he engaged the audience with stories and perspectives only a former four-star general and Secretary of State could share. What continues to stir me most deeply from that day to this, though, was the respect given him before he uttered a single word. As he entered the room and made his way up the aisle, there was first the silently spreading hush of awe at his presence and then the thunderous burst of a standing ovation that lasted for some time after he stepped up to the podium. It was the natural and spontaneous recognition of honor well earned.
The recollection reminds me of another standing ovation, that for Stephen, a believer in the early church—his audience of one: Jesus, the ascended Christ. Stephen’s role was a comparatively humble one: feeding the hungry widows, while others assumed the more publicly esteemed role of preaching the word of God. Still, Stephen was a man “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”1; he was “full of grace and power [and] doing great wonders and signs among the people.”2 Intolerant of the gospel and its adherents, however, local synagogue leaders stirred up a false witness against Stephen, and as he concluded his oratory of defense before them, he “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”3 Normally enthroned in the heavenlies, Jesus now stood as Stephen was stoned to death, the first among all believers to die for his faith in Christ.
To the widows served at his hand and to the One who sent him to them, Stephen meant everything. He trusted Jesus and in faith did what the Spirit led him to do. He had a purpose, he had fulfilled it, and Jesus now stood to receive him with honor. We likewise have divine purpose here, some tasks intimidating in size, perhaps, and others seemingly so small in our eyes they escape our notice if we aren’t watching for them. So, we step into each day with fresh faith and a heart liberated unto obedience. We have purpose here, and when our time is done, we too will be received into the presence of God. Stay focused; stay true.
Father, you have much for us to do today. Open our eyes to see where you are sending us and what you are calling us to do. Liberate us in your great love for us, that we will gladly obey. In Jesus name and by the power of your Spirit I pray. Amen.
1 Acts 7:3 ESV
2 Acts 7:8 ESV
3 Acts 8:55, 56 ESV